01 January 2014
In the first part of his series on whisky, featured in every issue of Scottish Memories, Tom Morton looks back on his first tastes of whisky and why it truly is 'Scottish history in a glass'… ...
In the first part of a new series on whisky, to be printed in every issue of Scottish Memories, Tom Morton looks back on his first tastes of whisky and why it truly is 'Scottish history in a glass'…
I was just a boy, really, when I first tasted Scottish history in a glass.
I was right at the start of what would become a lifetime’s pilgrimage through the world of single malts, single grains, and blends from the most luxurious to the most suitable for window cleaning. I just about knew you could only use the word ‘Scotch’ in relation to butter, eggs and whisky. As someone once said: ‘It’s a drink, not a nation.’
As the years passed, however, I would discover, bit by bit, dram by dram, that ‘Scotch’ is indeed the spirit of a country, Scotland’s own water of life. Which in Gaelic is ‘uisge beatha’.
Say that quickly, slurring slightly, and you get the word ‘whisky’.
But on a summer’s day in 1991 I was at the Dalmore Distillery on the shores of the Cromarty Firth, in the office of manager John MacDonald.
I was given a wee dram of the twelve-year-old Dalmore, which was, as I remember, an enjoyably sherry-heavy experience. But then John produced a small medicine bottle with perhaps an inch of thick golden liquid in it. It glinted in the sunlit office like some kind of magic elixir.
And it was.
John wasn’t sure exactly how old it was, but it was more than half a century since it had reached the bottling stage, when this sample had been taken, and it had been distilled probably a good 15 years before that.
I wrote at the time: “What does it taste of? A war, 50 years of world strife, the depletion of the ozone layer, the end of communism in Eastern Europe? It tastes old, old and golden and honey like, but mostly old. A whisky from which youth has departed. There’s something sad and magnificent about this taste.”
John Macdonald retired shortly afterwards. The old, old whisky would have been made at the very beginning of his career. Now, almost a quarter of a century has passed since I sipped that dram, and now I know exactly what it tasted of.
It tasted of John’s life and work. It tasted of greatness. It tasted of Scotland.